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We look at this common skin issue in cats

Cats take good care of their fur, that’s why any hair loss can be easily noticed by owners and can rightly be a cause for concern. Bald patches on cats are however fairly common, but they may be caused by any number of conditions – sometimes routine, sometimes serious. In this blog we take a look at why your cat might develop bald patches or hair loss and what might be causing it.

If your cat has bald patches that are causing you concern, book an appointment at Knutsford Vets Surgery. We have specialist diagnostic facilities and staff with additional training in pet dermatology.

What do bald patches on cats look like? 

Bald patches on cats can take many forms, from a singular bald patch right down to the skin, to a more patchy loss of hair covering a larger area. How your cat’s bald patch presents will depend on the ailment that’s causing it. Vets will usually be able to rule out certain causes just by looking at your cat’s fur and bald spots.

These bald patches on their skin can appear on any part of their body, from their tail right to their neck or ears depending on the cause. The nature of the hair loss, rather than the location, is usually the best guide to potential causes and there are no areas of the body that should cause you direct concern if you notice a bald patch.

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What is the cause of bald patches on cats?

There are many potential causes of bald patches on cats. Some can be a bigger cause for concern than others. If you notice any significant hair loss you should visit the vet immediately to find the cause and ensure your cat receives effective treatment. We’ve described some of the potential causes below to help you spot similarities to your cat’s hair loss.

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Fleas and other external parasites

By far the most common cause of a bald patch on your cat’s fur is fleas or other external parasites. This is especially common on your cat’s lower back and tail. Hair loss usually occurs when your cat has an allergic reaction to the fleas saliva causing them to overgroom. In these instances the bald patch can vary from small to quite large.

If your cat is suffering from a flea infestation you’ll usually notice other symptoms including a noticeable increase in itching. You can eliminate fleas with routine spot on treatments or by using other preventive treatments. If your cat has had an allergic reaction to a flea bite that has caused baldness a vet may administer an injection or other treatment to help reduce the allergic reaction and help calm the area. Hair will usually grow back once the inflammation resolves.

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Over grooming from stress or anxiety

Cats take pride in their appearance and hygiene. They constantly groom their own fur by licking themselves all over. Whilst this is completely normal behaviour, a cat under stress or suffering from anxiety may lick too much causing bald patches to appear. This can result in thinning of fur all over the coat or it may result in a bald patch localised to a certain area. Particular patches commonly affected by this kind of behaviour include around the stomach and the tail. 

In these instances, treatment should focus on relieving stress in whatever way possible. Causes of stress can include a change of home, the introduction of a new pet or animal or something present in their environment that they perceive as a threat or danger. 

Owners who notice over grooming should focus on preventing the behaviour by distracting their pet with toys or cuddles. They should also consider using a feline pheromone diffuser or spray, like Feliway, which will help put your cat at ease. There is a danger that the cat might develop over grooming as a long term habit if left uncorrected.

On some rare instances over grooming may occur as part of a neurological disorder or pain. If your cat continues to over groom you should return to your vet.

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A common cause of baldness affecting your cat is allergies. This can either be an allergic reaction to something they have eaten or environmental allergies to something they have come into contact with. In either case allergies may cause your cat to itch constantly, which can in itself cause baldness, or alternatively the allergy may directly cause their hair to fall out.

If your cat develops bald patches, accompanied by other symptoms such as dry skin or itching, this may be as a result of an allergic reaction. In these instances you should try to identify what has recently come into their environment or diet that may now be causing these symptoms. Upon removing the allergen you should notice less symptoms and an improvement in their condition. 

If you fail to identify the cause of the allergen, vets can usually help by making suggestions. If that fails, there are a number of tests that are possible. You can find out more about allergies in this blog about dog allergies as many of the principles are similar.

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Ringworm or fungal infection

Despite its unusual name, ringworm is not a parasite. It’s a fungal infection that causes lesions on the skin that are circular in shape. It can affect most mammals and is highly contagious. If your cat develops a ringworm infection it will usually cause their hair to fall out around the infected area. This will leave either a completely bald area of skin or a distinctly thinner covering of hair.

Your cat can catch ringworm from fungal spores that can survive on objects for up to two weeks. This means that if your cat brushes against an object that an infected animal has come into contact with they will catch the infection. Ringworm is diagnosed by taking a sample from the affected area and testing it in a laboratory. If you suspect your cat has ringworm be careful not to come into contact with the infected area as humans can catch it too.

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Thyroid Problems

Thyroid problems are a fairly common ailment affecting cats and one of the symptoms that they may cause includes bald patches and hair loss. These issues may have a general negative impact on your cat’s fur, with it becoming matted, dull or greasy as a result.

Hyperthyroidism is the name given for an overactive thyroid and hypothyroidism is the name for an underactive thyroid. Other symptoms may include sudden and extreme weight loss or weight gain, increased thirst, or a change in behaviour such as hyperactivity or underactivity. 

These can be diagnosed by simple blood tests and routine treatment can be administered to control the thyroid. On rare occasions an operation may be required.

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Other potential causes

There are also a number of other potential causes of hair loss and bald spots affecting your cat, including: – 

  • Cat bite abscess which may occur if your cat has been in a fight with another cat. These wounds have a tendency to become severely infected.
  • Hereditary genetic conditions that may cause your cat’s hair to fall out for which there may be no cure. On these occasions the hair will usually grow back. 
  • Reaction to medication that has hair loss as a potential side effect. 
  • Leukemia, both as a cause in its own right or as a result of their medication
  • Injuries where the cat has grazed or cut their skin. Hair may not grow back from an area which has scarred.

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Will hair grow back?

For most cases of hair loss affecting cats the hair will grow back if effective treatment is administered to treat the cause. Some cats that experience hair loss as a result of illness may be more susceptible to other episodes of baldness in the future depending on the cause, whilst some cats may notice no future occurrences.

For many cat owners, bald patches can be an early sign that their cat’s health may need some attention, particularly if they have known issues with their thyroid or are susceptible to stress. If you notice and baldness or hair loss on your cat that’s out of the ordinary, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. 

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